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Anyone can suffer from stress either physically or mentally. This article will cover the mental stress people face today.  It is a circumstance recognised as an uncontrollable threat to a person’s health and well-being. At LECC, our responses to stress have evolved because it is important for survival in dangerous and hostile environments. Based on experimental and research evidence, this article will examine how mental stress affects the cardiovascular system.

 Here are some of the outcomes of mental stress:

  1. Elevated sympathetic activity, or the fight or flight response, initiates increased blood pressure levels and accelerates pulse rates.
  2. Reduced insulin sensitivity and intolerance to glucose and diabetes.
  3. Increased blood clotting, as well as blood vessel dysfunction.
  4. Decreased blood supply to the heart.

Researchers have found a strong link between mental stress and a trigger of coronary heart disease, particularly in cases of advanced hardening of the coronary or heart arteries also known as coronary atherosclerosis.


In What Way Can Stress Affect Blood Sugar Levels and Blood Pressure?

Increased glucose intolerance or insulin insensitivity can be caused by mental stress. And as a result, diabetes increases the risk of coronary heart disease, and the elevated risk associated with mental stress may be worsened by diabetes.  Yet, there are only a few medical studies that have actually investigated how much mental stress contributes to mortality and the development of cardiovascular disease.

One of the potential reasons for the excess risk of heart attack associated with mental stress is the effect this stress has on increased blood pressure levels and heart rates by increasing the body’s fight or flight activities.

The arteries that supply the heart with oxygen and nutrients tend to be more sensitive to atherosclerosis in people who have higher blood pressure in response to mental stress. Research has shown these patients continue to experience the hardening of these arteries.

As a result of stress, blood pressure can increase both immediately and over time. The tension one experiences during a moment of fear or anxiety, which is often referred to as immediate stress or acute stress. Acute stress can significantly spike a quick and large increase in blood pressure and heart rate. However, it is usually short-lived and only lasts for a few days. When dealing with anxiety, patients who have high blood pressure commonly experience symptoms such as dizziness, palpitations, and headaches. Amongst the general population, panic attacks are not uncommon but are more frequently experienced by individuals with high blood pressure.

Partly because chronic stress is difficult to measure, it’s difficult to determine whether chronic stress contributes to elevated blood pressure levels. The perception of stress is very subjective and experiences that may be stressful for one person may not be as stressful to the next.

Research has shown that when “stressed” people migrate from a traditionally structured environment to a less secure urban lifestyle, their blood pressure is likely to increase. Factors such as time urgency and hostility, play a significant role in increased blood pressure.

Occupational strain is one of the best-studied examples of chronic mental stress, defined by a combination of high demands and low control at work.  Researchers suggest that chronic stress can result in a reset of our blood pressure to a higher level, men who work in high-strain jobs have elevated blood pressure not only at work but now also during sleep. In women, this effect is less evident.


Controlling your stress

There is good news in that improving one’s physical health can boost one’s resistance to mental stress. Below are some methods to do this.

  1. Exercise regularly. To reduce or prevent the effects of stress, physical activity is essential. Take a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise three times a week.
  2. Eat a balanced diet. Fruits, vegetables, and unprocessed foods should be included in one’s diet. Cut back on caffeine and sugar intake.
  3. Get enough sleep.
  4. Meditate.
  5. Relaxation techniques such as massage, deep breathing, or acupuncture are known to help.
  6. Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and illegal drugs. The use of alcohol or drugs to self-medicate can look like a quick and easy way to relieve stress, but this form of relief is only short-lived.

Placing preventive measures are the best form of action. Through better stress management and prevention, one can effectively modify cardiac risk factors and thereby strengthen the heart.